Chromatin is the complex of DNA and histone proteins that is the physiological form of the eukaryotic genome. Chromatin is generally repressive for transcription, especially so during early metazoan development when maternal factors are explicitly in control of new zygotic gene expression. In the important model organism Xenopus laevis, maturing oocytes are transcriptionally active with reduced rates of chromatin assembly, while laid eggs and fertilized embryos have robust rates of chromatin assembly and are transcriptionally repressed. As the DNA-to-cytoplasmic ratio decreases approaching the mid-blastula transition (MBT) and the onset of zygotic genome activation (ZGA), the chromatin assembly process changes with the concomitant reduction in maternal chromatin components. Chromatin assembly is mediated in part by histone chaperones that store maternal histones and release them into new zygotic chromatin. Here, we review literature on chromatin and transcription in frog embryos and cell-free extracts and highlight key insights demonstrating the roles of maternal and zygotic histone deposition and their relationship with transcriptional regulation. We explore the central historical and recent literature on the use of Xenopus embryos and the key contributions provided by experiments in cell-free oocyte and egg extracts for the interplay between histone chaperones, chromatin assembly, and transcriptional regulation. Ongoing and future studies in Xenopus cell free extracts will likely contribute essential new insights into the interplay between chromatin assembly and transcriptional regulation.